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Child Labor Laws (Employing Minors)
Employment of minors in California is regulated under numerous authorities such as the California Labor Code, the Education Code and the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This section explains the employment of minors. It includes exceptions and restrictions, work permits, record keeping, wages and possible penalties when codes or laws are violated.
Child Labor Law Coverage: Almost all employees under the age of 18 are covered by California’s child labor protections. Under the California Labor Code, “minor” means any person under the age of 18 years who is required to attend school under the provisions of the California Education Code, and includes all minors under the age of six. With limited exceptions, all minors must have a permit to work.
The California Labor Code entirely excludes any high school graduate under the age of 18 and not covered by the compulsory education laws, permit requirements, work hour restrictions and all occupational prohibitions. However, under federal regulations, high school graduates under 18 cannot be employed in an occupation prohibited to minors under 18 unless they also have completed a bona fide course of training in that occupation.
School dropouts are covered by California’s compulsory education laws and thus are covered by all state child labor requirements. Emancipated minors are covered by all California child labor laws, except that they can apply for a work permit without their parents’ permission.
Record Keeping and Employing Minors: Prior to permitting a minor to start work, you must possess a valid Permit to Employ and Work - Form B1-4. The minor’s school issues the permit. Generally, the minor obtains an application (Minors - Statement of Intent to Employ and Request for Work Permit - Form B1-1), completes it, has it signed by his/her parent and/or guardian and prospective supervisor, then returns it to the school. The school may then issue the permit.
You must have a Minors - Statement of Intent to Employ and Request for Work Permit - Form B1-1 on file with the school district of attendance for each minor required to attend school. Every employer must have a Permit to Employ and Work - Form B1-4 on file in the workplace for each minor.
Keep records available at all times for inspection by school authorities and officers of the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement (DLSE). Failure to produce a Permit to Work or to Employ is evidence of the illegal employment of minors and subjects you to a $500 fine for the first offense.
You must keep a record showing the names, ages, dates of birth and addresses of all minors employed, and time and payroll records required by the applicable Industrial Welfare Commission (IWC) Wage Order for three years. You must furnish this information when requested.
The student-learner program is for high school students of at least 16 years of age who are enrolled in vocational education courses. If you employ student-learners, you must keep a copy of the written agreement with the minor’s other employment records.
Minors are covered by all record keeping requirements related to payment of wages. At the time you pay wages, you must furnish each of your employees a separate or detachable itemized statement of deductions.
Workers’ Compensation and Minors: Minors requesting work permits must have the name of your workers’ compensation carrier on their Statement of Intent to Employ Minor and Request for Work Permit - Form B1-1. If minors enrolled in work experience education programs receive pay for their work, you must carry workers’ compensation insurance for them. In the case of minors not paid for their work in work experience education programs, workers’ compensation insurance must be carried by the school district.
Child Labor Exceptions for Parents and Guardians: Generally, when parents or guardians employ their minor children they must meet all of the child labor requirements that are imposed upon other employers, including obtaining work permits. Parents or guardians who employ their minor children in “manufacturing, mercantile or similar commercial enterprises” must obtain work permits. This phrase is broadly construed to mean any business in which parents or guardians employ their children.
The only parent or guardian employers who are exempt from California child labor laws are those who employ their minor children in agriculture, horticulture, viticulture or domestic labor on or in connection with premises that the parent or guardian owns, operates or controls. These parent or guardian employers are uniquely exempt from work permit requirements, most work hour restrictions and hazardous occupation prohibitions. Parents and guardians cannot employ minors in these exempted occupations during school hours, even if the minor is under school age. Under federal law, minors employed on a farm owned or operated by his/her parent or guardian are exempt from the FLSA’s child labor provisions, including hazardous occupations, but they cannot be employed in any mining or manufacturing occupation on the farm.
The exemption for domestic labor does not mean a minor can be employed in the parent or guardian’s home in an occupation otherwise prohibited. Domestic labor refers to the type of duties performed — that is, household duties — not the location where labor is performed. Minors cannot be freely employed to manufacture goods in their parents’ home. They must be at least 16 and possess a homeworker permit issued by the Labor Commissioner, in addition to possessing a work permit issued by the minor’s school.
Similarly, under federal law, parents do not have carte blanche when they employ their own children. Parents or guardians cannot employ their minor children under 16 in mining or manufacturing, nor can they employ their children in the occupations declared hazardous for people under 18. Under federal law, parents or guardians can employ their children under 16 in any other occupation. However, where state law imposes a more protective occupational standard, that standard applies to parent employers. State law does not permit parents or guardians to employ their underage children in prohibited occupations, except in agriculture on premises the parent or guardian owns, operates or controls.
Parent or guardian employers in these particular industries are entirely exempt from both state and federal minimum wage and overtime pay requirements. Parents and guardians need not pay their employee children any wages at all. The parent or guardian must be the owner of the business. If the business entity is a corporation, the minor is not directly employed by the parent and this exception does not apply.
Finally, parents and guardians have special liability for violations of certain child labor laws even when they are not the employer; examples include activities dangerous to the health of the minor, begging and working in entertainment without the required permit.